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Rail experts say high-speed HS2 project is ‘out of control’

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Parts of the line have been labelled as over-complicated and the plans to redevelop London’s Euston station a “white elephant”

Rail experts have heavily criticised HS2, calling the project “out of control” and a “dog’s dinner”, while labelling parts of the line over-complicated and the plans to redevelop London’s Euston station a “white elephant”.

The £50 billion North to South high-speed railway is one of the most expensive infrastructure projects ever planned in the UK and would be the longest line to be built for more than 100 years. 

Professor Roderick Smith of the Future Railway Research Centre at Imperial College London said that, although he has long championed HS2, he felt the project should be rethought. Smith is a former president of the IMechE and former chief scientific adviser to the Department for Transport. 

“We’re doing it all wrong,” he said. “It’s a dog’s dinner. We’re being told it’s become too late to stop spending on it, but I can’t understand the direction it’s heading in. 

“The project has got out of control and it’s not clear what thinking is driving it.” Smith said the main issue is running classic compatible trains on and off the purpose-built high-speed line. The places where HS2 integrates with the existing rail network could become pinch points, where late-running trains will cause delays to HS2 trains as they transfer from the existing network. 

“A dedicated high-speed line operates with punctuality measured in a few seconds,” he said. “Not having HS2 as a closed system plays to the weaknesses of the whole network. We’re making it more complicated than it needs to be, whilst adding to the cost and decreasing its reliability.”

HS2 trains, he said, will need to be as light as possible on the high-speed line to reduce maintenance costs, but heavier on the conventional rail network to deal with greater irregularities and different signalling and control systems. Designing a train suitable for both will result in a compromised vehicle. “The line needs to be a pure high-speed railway and then we can arrange for easy transfer to the existing lines.”

Smith also slammed the plans for Euston station, calling it an “unnecessary farce” and questioning the need for the size of the redevelopment. He said: “Building 13 new tracks in the middle of London just makes it more expensive and complex than it needs to be. Simplicity is the key to good engineering.” 

Other experts echoed Smith’s concerns about Euston station, with some labelling it a “white elephant” because the proposed station at Old Oak Common will fulfil many passengers’ needs. Research has been conducted that shows that six high-speed platforms would be sufficient at Euston. 

HS2 said: “An open system is at the heart of our design. It means we can benefit more people and sooner. Direct high-speed services to Edinburgh, Newcastle, Glasgow and Liverpool will spread benefits to millions more passengers, and integration will provide high-speed services to Manchester and Leeds seven years early.

“There are costs attached to this design, but these costs are far outweighed by the benefits given to millions more passengers.”

Royal assent on a bill to build the first phase of the project is expected this year.  

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